Occupy Pynchon


Occupy Pynchon is my first academic monograph. In 2010, I started writing my doctoral dissertation about Thomas Pynchon’s politics, specifically how they changed during the 17 years between his third novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, and his fourth, Vineland. Just as I finished the dissertation, the Occupy Movement happened. I wasn’t part of that movement. What struck me, though, were the similarities between Pynchon’s suggestions for a better world and the Occupy Movement’s ideas of participatory democracy. So I went back through the dissertation, scrapped about two-thirds of it, and added all of my research on Occupy and other global movements of participatory democracy. The University of Georgia Press published it in 2017.

You can order the book directly from the publisher here.

Here’s the official synopsis:

Occupy Pynchon examines power and resistance in the writer’s post–Gravity’s Rainbow novels. As Sean Carswell shows, Pynchon’s representations of global power after the neoliberal revolution of the 1980s shed the paranoia and metaphysical bent of his first three novels and share a great deal in common with the work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s critical trilogy, Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth. In both cases, the authors describe global power as a horizontal network of multinational corporations, national governments, and supranational institutions. Pynchon, as do Hardt and Negri, theorizes resistance as a horizontal network of individuals who work together, without sacrificing their singularities, to resist the political and economic exploitation of empire.

Carswell enriches this examination of Pynchon’s politics—as made evident in Vineland (1990), Mason & Dixon (1997), Against the Day (2006), Inherent Vice (2009), and Bleeding Edge (2013)—by reading the novels alongside the global resistance movements of the early 2010s. Beginning with the Arab Spring and progressing into the Occupy Movement, political activists engaged in a global uprising. The ensuing struggle mirrored Pynchon’s concepts of power and resistance, and Occupy activists in particular constructed their movement around the same philosophical tradition from which Pynchon, as well as Hardt and Negri, emerges. This exploration of Pynchon shines a new light on Pynchon studies, recasting his post-1970s fiction as central to his vision of resisting global neoliberal capitalism.

Also, a Pynchon scholar for whom I have great admiration, Katherine Hume, wrote an excellent review of it. You can read it here. (You have to scroll down. It’s the fourth book reviewed in this article.)